Category Archives: TECHNOLOGY/GEAR
Hard to believe that in my youth, I rarely planned trips and never used guidebooks. In middle-age, with limited time to travel, a slightly bigger budget and advanced pickiness, I’ve taken to booking lodging and sometimes meals in advance using an array of guidebooks and travel articles. Here’s what’s come in handy for Portugal:
Lonely Planet guide – Got this from the public library and have used primarily to find lodging and bone up on cultural activities.
Rick Steves’ guide – It’s not as detailed as the Lonely Planet guide but Rick was helpful in narrowing down where to go during a two-week period. His guide is not as encyclopedic as Lonely Planet – with info on far fewer locations and for the locations it does list, offering fewer options. I didn’t use his lodging suggestions much – Lonely Planet had a wider range, more interesting off-the-beaten-track places and good subtitles like “rural inn” to help narrow things down. I don’t like big hotels or resorts. I prefer smaller family-run places where you can sort of get a feel for what real life is like and connect a little with locals/local life. But I think Rick’s guide will be helpful for actual sight seeing, with some good walking tours in places like Lisbon and Porto…
Newspaper travel stories – The NYTimes has a few including a story on The Other Algarve (which I found a bit late, after I’d spent considerably time trying on my own to figure out the least touristy places to visit) and a 36 Hours Lisbon; But I also found some really helpful stories from the Travel Channel (Anthony Bourdain’s show), the British press including some stories from the Telegraph and the Guardian, plus Afar magazine.
I thought I found my dream lightweight, inexpensive carry-on suitcase about a year ago and I bought it for about $35. For the most part, it was fine – but I discovered the hard way, when I almost dropped the suitcase on a fellow passenger’s head when trying to stuff it into an overhead luggage compartment, that it was missing a crucial side handle. (I’d never realized just how crucial that side handle is for hoisting up a suitcase.) Not to worry – I went to my favorite shoe/luggage repair store and they managed to find material that almost matched the bag (which has a bright red floral pattern reminiscent of a 1960’s slumber party tote) to fashion into a handle. But during my last plane trip to DC last month, I suddenly found as I was approaching the check-in security area that I couldn’t get my collapsible metal handle to collapse. After wrestling with it for awhile, one side of the handle broke off – making it barely, just barely, functional. Oh well. I did read the other day about my dream suit case – the Spectra Global carry-on suitcase from Victorinox, one of those deceptively heavy-looking hard-sided numbers made of polycarbonate (vs. soft leather or nylon) that actually weights less than six pounds (notice also in the photo the four wheels vs. the usual two. Apparently this is increasingly popular.) Problem is, it costs about 10 times what my cheapo bag from Target cost.
I do see online that Target is selling some hard-side suitcases for $75 – $100 but can’t tell how much they weigh. May be worth looking into,.
A New Yorker cartoon recently summed up the typical contents of a blog that it’s: 1/3 how to sew, knit, cook, whatever, 1/3 kvetching of one variety or another and 1/3 self-promotion. Or some such.
With this blog, I’ve tried not to do much of any of that. But hey, what’s wrong with a little self- promotion – especially when, sadly, I won’t earn anything else from the re-publication of two of my stories for the NYTimes in an upcoming 774- page coffee table travel book.
So be on the look out for The New York Times, 36 hours: 150 weekends in the USA and Canada which should be available in November I’m told and includes my stories on Oak Park (Illinois) and on Iowa’s Coast (yes, coast – along the Mississippi). They’ve been updated since they ran several years ago – but not entirely by me.
Here’s some promo material:
The 740-page book includes the Times’ top 150 travel destinations, from cities and towns to natural wonders across America. Practical recommendations for the over 600 restaurants and 450 hotels is inside with color-coded tabs and ribbons to bookmark favorite cities in each region. Nearly 1,000 photos, most of them from The New York Times archive made it in, making it small enough to throw in your suitcase but big enough to enjoy from your favorite reading chair. The new illustrations by Times illustrator Olimpia Zagnoli of Milan, Italy look fantastic, and includes easy-to-reference indexes and detailed city-by-city maps,. This will be TASCHEN America’s top title of the year.
The New York Times, 36 Hours: 150 Weekends in the USA & Canada
Hardcover, 16.8 x 24 cm (6.6 x 9.4 in.), 744 pages
EUR 29.99 | USD 39.99 | GBP 24.99 | JPY 5900.00
The best of the USA & Canada: The highly acclaimed New York Times travel feature finally available in one updated volume
So I’m elbow deep in thick guidebooks trying to figure out the best (my “”best” definition: the most interesting/authentic, least expensive/resort/chain-like) place to stay on Hawaii’s Big Island and fine myself torn about two B&Bs in Volcano, Hawaii (right by the National Volcano Park).
I’ve gone to the websites for each and watched the videos and slide shows and scanned the maps and read the testimonials. I’ve looked at one room after another, even one B&B’ s floor plans. Does it really make a difference if the proprietor was born and raised in Volcano – or a relatively recent transplant from Oklahoma? Do I care that one serves a hot breakfast, the other a cold; one serves organic fruit, the other fruit not billed as organic? And to think I used to just travel without booking a place to stay – let alone the absolutely perfect place to stay, whose every crevice I am familiar with in advance.
This researching also raises the question of whether to trust the opinion of various travel magazines and guidebooks. Having written for both, I sometimes wonder what their criteria is for choosing “the 25 best” or “the 10 places we love” etc. (A recent example – Forbes Magazine recently selected the Des Moines neighborhood I live in as one of America’s 12 prettiest. It’s nice enough but one of the top 12? Looking closer, I saw that a Des Moines magazine editor helped do the picking.)
Back to Hawaii: B&B#1 appears to be the darling of the travel mags (two have given it a major thumbs up) and it is the cheapest. But judging from the websites of each, it looks rather drab compared to B&B #2 which is more cheerfully decorated, gets respectful reviews in two guidebooks (as does B&B #1) , has its share of local “Best of” awards, and was selected as a stopover by a respected walking tour company. True it’s $70 more a night, which one guidebook says is a “con” because it’s overpriced for the area. But I may just have to go with my gut on this one.
Before I left the US for Panama, I wondered if my Kindle would work in a foreign land. It did work for reading ebooks (which I don’t do on my Kindle, oddly) and it helped that Panama has the same outlet plugs that the U.S. does. But didn’t work for getting my daily New York Times fix – which wasn’t crucial anyway since I don’t tend to read the paper much when I’m racing around on vacation. (Although we did end up watching CNN a few nights because we wanted to know what was happening in Egypt and the rest of the Middle East.)
As for Wi-Fi in general, we found we had to pay for it at the fancy resorts we stayed at in and around Panama City – but it was free at the little $80 a night B&B we stayed at in Bocas del Toro. Why is that?
A new product could make life – and a plastic charge card rather than cash – much easier for Americans traveling abroad. A currency exchange company called Travelex has begun selling a preloaded debit card that uses the “chip and PIN” technology (the card has an embedded microchip and a PIN number you have to use, like with a debit card) widely used in Europe – rather than the card common in the U.S. that has a magnetic stripe.
I ran into problems with my magnetic stripe credit card when I was in London a few years ago – a few places, especially those off the tourist beaten path, would not accept my card because it didn’t have the chip and PIN and they didn’t have the machine needed to process my magnetic strip card. (Before this, I didn’t know I HAD a magnetic strip card.) We also had some troubles in France with this – at gas stations and paying highway tolls at machines that only accept chip-and-PIN cards.
If I’m reading the NYTimes travel story from Dec. 5 about this correctly, the new Cash Passport smart cards will include both the magnetic stripe and the chip and PIN. They’ll be sold initially at Travelex airport and retail locations and then early next year online. And they’ll be available in euros or pounds and can be used wherever MasterCard is used. Word has it there’s no fee to buy or use the card from Travelex but some ATM operators abroad may charge fees. All good but one question: Why don’t U.S. credit card companies adopt the chip-and-PIN technology which I gather better safeguards us if the card is stolen since people can’t use it without knowing the PIN?
A good friend in London weighed in on London guidebooks and she recommends one written by a friend: The London Mapguide by Michael Middleditch – which she reports is “slim but full of facts and beautifully illustrated.” I found it on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/London-Mapguide-5th-Michael-Middleditch/dp/0140279482
Oops. For anyone who was enticed by the title of this post and found it empty, I apologize. A friend called just as I was starting to blog and I inadvertently pressed the “Publish” key rather than the “Save draft” key. As it turns out, my friend was calling for some advice on starting a blog. (Not sure I’m the best source on that…)
Anyway…we are heading to a quaint inn in Newport, Oregon next month that is unapologetically unplugged – no radios, tvs, or phones. (There is apparently one public phone in case of emergency). Instead there are books, conversation, and really good food. All of which sounds very appealing to me – except that I do need to blog (God forbid you all go without my daily post) and I also need to be on call should my two teenagers – who won’t be with us (one will be in Spain, the other in Arizona) – need to reach us. So we’ll see how this works. Or doesn’t work.
I have never been one of those people who had to be plugged-in during a trip. Sure I need to be accessible to editors I’m working with on various projects and I am by cell phone. But part of vacationing for me has been about NOT having to check my email constantly and NOT having to drag all my word files. Alas, this seems to be changing – in part because of this blog and also because new technology (like my new Netbook, I hope) makes being plugged in while on the road easier and even cheaper. Again, we shall see.